By Hamdi Firat Buyuk
European Union leaders agreed on Friday to impose limited sanctions on Turkish individuals and companies amid continued tension in the Eastern Mediterranean region.
The decision allows the EU to penalize individuals and companies involved in planning and carrying out gas exploration in the East Med, with sanctions of travel bans into EU countries and asset freezes.
The administrators of Turkish Petroleum Corporation, which is leading Turkey’s gas drillings in the sea, is already on an EU sanctions list. The new sanctions add additional people and organisations to the list.
“Regrettably, Turkey has engaged in unilateral actions and provocations and escalated its rhetoric against the EU, EU member states and European leaders,” a statement from the summit in Brussels said.
“The European Council reaffirms the EU’s strategic interest in the development of a cooperative and mutually beneficial relationship with Turkey. The offer of a positive EU-Turkey agenda remains on the table, provided Turkey shows readiness to promote a genuine partnership with the union and its member states and to resolve differences through dialogue and in accordance with international law,” it added.
Turkey’s drilling activities in disputed waters prompted Greece, Cyprus and France to demand heavier sanctions, including freezing Turkey’s EU accession talks and cutting out Ankara from a customs union but their demands were not supported by other countries, by Germany in particular.
Possible harsher steps were postponed until March as EU countries conflicted on how to handle Ankara.
Before the EU summit, Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said the credibility of the European Union was on the line. “EU leaders promised consequences during the last summit in October if Turkey continued its delinquent behaviour,” he said.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan dismissed the latest sanctions and said nothing would stop its drilling activities. “Any decision to impose sanctions against Turkey would not be of great concern,” he said.
Turkey and Greece have long disagreed on their continental shelf and maritime zones. Gas discoveries and explorations in the East Med have deepened the rift and drawn in regional and international actors.
Since last summer, Turkish and Greek navies have been on the alert and Turkish drilling ships have continued their operations guarded by the Turkish navy.
Turkey’s forward policy in the East Med has raised concerns in the West following its rapprochement with Russia and military intervention in Libya, which experts say changed the dynamics of that conflict. While Turkey backs the UN-recognised government in Libya, France, Russia and others back a rival administration under General Haftar.
After Turkey signed a maritime agreement with the UN-recognised Libyan National Accord Government, GNA, the agreement was condemned by other regional and Western countries.
The agreement with the GNA, called “Blue Homeland”, endorses Turkish claims to a large portion of the sea, bypassing Greece and Cyprus and assuming an 18-mile maritime border between Libya and Turkey.
The US House of Representatives on Wednesday adopted the National Defence Authorization Act, NDAA, which includes sanctions against Turkey because of several international disagreements including its activities in the East Med.